Saturday, May 26, 2018

Free parking in schools

Should teachers be allowed to park their cars free in school?

The new education minister, Ong Ye Kung, is caught in this dilemma. He said that this issue was brought up by the Auditor General who has reported over a few years that the free parking is an infringement of the government's "clean wage" policy.

The minister is caught in a bind - damned if you do, damned if you don't.

He has another problem. If free parking is allowed, who gets to use the space? It is likely that there are more teachers driving a car, compared to the space available. Which teachers gets to use the free space? Should it be the most senior teachers in rank or in service?

Some space has to be set aside for parents, vendors and other visitors.

A few weeks ago, I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd. Here is a summary of the votes:

48% - they should continue to enjoy the free parking
22% - they should pay a parking fee to be fair to teachers who do not use the space
19% - it should be left to the principal to decide
11% - it should be decided by the government.

There is no clear concensus on this issue. However, most people think that the minister does not need to be involved.

My view is - the minister should provide the guideline, but the actual decision should be left to the principal.

The guideline should state that a fee should be charged, but not at the market rate. The principal may exempt the fee for teachers who has to use the car in the course of duty.

In turn, the principal may form a committee of teachers to decide on the allocation - this is call "democracy at work".

Do you think that my approach is better than that adopted by the minister?

Tan Kin Lian


Someone asked me:
What is the CPF/ HDB mess?

My reply:
1. Not enough CPF for retirement.
2. Cannot take out CPF in full at 55 or even 65.
3. Low return on CPF savings
4. HDB - expensive
5. Poor value after 40 years.
6. Confusing CPf schemes - medisave, Medishield, Eldershield, integrated plans

Do you agree?

Visiting Johor

Over three days, I visited and stayed in three towns in Johor - Kluang, Mersing and Johor Bahru.

I did not feel insecure due to crime. I met people who are friendly and helpful. I feel comfortable with the people from all races - Malay, Chinese and Indians.

I also met some foreigners working in Johor - and they speak the local languages.

I travelled in a Malaysian car owned by my friend. He advised that it is safer to drive a Malaysian car, rather than a Singapore car.

Johor is worth a visit. The cost of living is much lower than Singapore.

Prompt payment of suppliers

When I run an insurance company, I learned that my finance manager was paying the repair workshops 30 days after rendering their invoice. It was the market practice.

I instructed the manager to pay the workshops immediately on receipt of invoice. This will help their cash flow and reduce their financing cost. Many of these small businesses had to pay high interest rate on their bank overdrafts.

This practice also helped the repair workshops to reduce their administrative expenses. They do not need to employ people to chase for payments or to "build relations" with the finance officers.

The repair workshops were happy to do business with us. They reduced their repair charges to be more competitive. Our practice of prompt payment also benefit us.

I encourage principals to adopt this practice and make prompt payments to their suppliers and contrators.

My sugggestion applies to principals with access to cheap money or idle cash. It does not apply to principals who are also cash strapped.

Vocational licenses for private hire drivers

I read that there were 30,000 private hire drivers who have not obtained their licence and the compliance date is due soon.

The reasons for their failure are mainly attributed to:

a) Language difficulty
b) Need to attend classes and pass examinations.
c) Insufficient places for classes and examinations.

Will the deadline be delayed? If not, will these drivers be barred from driving?

Are we trying to get them to pass examinations that are not relevant to their work?

Financing cost for small business

Many small businesses face the problem of slow payment by their principals. It added to their cash flow problem and increased their cost of financing.

Their principals include the government agencies and the government linked companies.

The slow payment is due to the bureaucratic process adopted by government agencies and the wish to save interest by paying at a later date.

This is a counter productive practice. The small business has to incur additional expenses in chasing for payment.

The financing and administrative cost of the small business increases their cost of doing business. They have to add this cost back to the cost of their services given to the principals.

This practice allows the banks to make a bigger profit. It is bad for the economy.

The government and government linked companies can adopt a practice of paying their suppliers and contractors promptly. This will reduce cost of financing and help to reduce the cost of doing business, to the benefit of all parties.

If the public sector takes the lead in this practice, the private sector will follow.

We can improve the efficiency of our small businesses.

Tan Kin Lian

How to prepare government budget

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - What is the best way to prepare the government budget?

Here are the responses:

91% - Be prudent in spending and avoid wasteful and unnecessary expenditure.

Three other factors contribute to the remaining 9%.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Expiry of HDB leases

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should HDB leases be renewed on expiry?

Here are the responses:

72% - It should be renewed if the flats are still in good condition and there are no plans for redevelopment.

24% - The flat owners should accept that the lease is for 99 years only.

 4% voted for other reasons.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Friday, May 25, 2018

Should ragging be banned?

A NS man with SCDF died due to an incident involving ragging.

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should ragging be banned?

Here are the responses:

77% - It should be banned as it is humiliating and bullying.
16% - It should be banned in SAF and SCDF
7% - Let it continue, as long as it is safe.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Direct election into town councils

The town council is now appointed by the elected MPs in the town.

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should we have direct elections for town councils?

Here are the responses:

36% - It gives the chance for people to vote directly for their elected councellors.

33% - It will be a waste of time and resourcs; let the HDB manage the estate.

22% - It will encourage people to be exposed to politics at local level and prepare them for higher officers.

8% - It is harmful to have politics at local level.

In favor - 58%; against - 41%

See the breakdown of the votes in

Travel ban on Najib

Immediately on his appointment as prime minister, Dr. Mahathir imposed a ban on travel by Najib Razak.

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Is Dr. Mahathir correct in banning Tun Najib from travel?

Here are the responses:

57% - It is correct for Najib to be detained for investigation.
31% - Najib is likely to disappear if he leaves Malaysia
10% - Najib should be allowed to travel as he has not been charged for any crime.
2% - The travel ban is an abuse of power.

Agree with the ban - 88%; disagree - 12%

See the breakdown of the votes in

Separation of powers

My friend said:

Long ago, Singapore had a solicitor general who gave legal adviser to the government. The attorney general decided on the cases to be prosecuted according to the lawyer. Both acted independently of the government in power.

For some time now, we appointed one person to perform both roles of advising the government and acting as the public prosecutor.

We have seen in a neighboring country how the prime minister dismissed an attorney general who was acting to frame a charge of corruption against him (the prime minister) and replaced him with another person who then decided to drop the charge.

This is the danger of appointing a person who has a conflict of interest.

Dr. Mahathir has decided to separate the office of the attorney general who provide advice to the government and the office of the public prosector. He decided that these appointments should be made by Parliament, rather than the prime minister.

Will Singapore follow his standard of governance and separation of powers?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Subsidised rental for hawker stalls

Currently, hawker stalls are rented out based on market rentals. The rentals are too high.

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should the rentals of hawker stalls be subsidised?

Here are the replies:

48% - It will bring down the price of food
39% - It will allow needy people to make a living
10% - The subsidy will be abused
2% - It is better to charge rental based on market rate.

88% are in favor of subsidised rental; 12% prefer market rental.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Direct election into town council

At present, our town council members are appointed by the elected MPs.

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Should the town council be run by elected councillers?

Here are the responses:

42% - It will make the town council more accountable to the residents.
32% - It will lead to politicking and will be bad for the governance of the country.
17% - It will help to develop the pool of talent to take leadership of the government.
10% - It will be a waste of time and money.

59% are in favor of direct election; 41% disagree.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Get better value from infrastructure spending

One major challenge faced in Singapore is the large sums that are being spent on infrastructure - a few billion dollars here and there.

My common sense tells me that we are probably paying much more than necessary, in some cases, several times of what the fair price should be.

In many cases, we are talking about complex systems. But there are ways of dealing with these complexities, withou abandoning common sense.

What can be done?

First, we have to look for comparables. How much are other cities paying for similar infrastructure? Take the key figures and translate into cost per km of track or cost per train cabin or any metric.

We can pay experts to do the study. For bigger projects, we can get two experts to study different cities.

One major difference is the quality. The experts can also give an opinion. Will the higher quality lead to a longer life? Will it reduce the cost of maintenance?

Another major difference is safety. Do we need to specify zero tolerance for accidents? How much does this zero tolerance cost? Should we accept a certain risk of accidents, perhaps a small one, to reduce the cost?

After the experts have have submitted their report, a committee can discuss the options and make their decision. The discussions can be captured on video and made available for public viewing. The process of the decision making will be transparent.

This will lead to a set of specification for the new project or infrastructure. The actual tender price may be different, but there is a benchmark to compare the actual against the expected price. Quite likely, the expected price will guide the tenderers on what they should aim for.

This process will contribute to reducing the cost of our infrastructure and allow the public to understand how the decision is made and believe that it was taken in the best of public interest.

Share our views.

Tan Kin Lian

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Be open minded about contacts with political leaders

When Anwar Ibrahim was in the opposition, our PAP leaders did not meet him.

Now, he will be the future prime minister of Malaysia. PM Lee visited him and have a chat with him.

Surely, relationship needs to be built up over many years, and not only after someone is elected to be a leader. Right?

The trouble is the small mindset of the people in power in Singapore and in other countries. They consider contact with the opposition as "interfering in domestic politics".

It would be better for these leaders to be open minded. They may be in power today, and may be out of power in the future. It is better to encourage all the politicians to build contact and relationship with the political leaders (in government and opposition) in neighboring countries - to facilities smooth working relations when there is a change of government.

We should not have the closed mindset of classifying people as "friends" or "enemies". Everyone should be friends. Right?

Tan Kin Lian

Singaporean Voices

Here is a link to the Youtube channel called Singaporean Voices.
You can watch several videos about the economic and social issues in Singapore.

Understand and address the problems faced by SMEs

The minister for trade and industry Chan Chun Sing announced recently that government wants to help small and medium enterprises (SME).

As he is new to the ministry and to the government, he may not be aware that the government has been making a similar announcement for the past three decades or longer.

In spite of the past announcements and big policy initiatives, the SMEs continued to be struggling. The government had made little progress in helping the SMEs to be more productive and competitive.

There were a few successes, such as the franchised food outlets and food manufacturing and the e-commerce businesses. But the failures overwhelm the successes.

What are the problems faced by SMEs? Let me list them:

a) High rental
b) High cost of labor
c) Tight margin due to competition
d) Problem with cash flow, financing and finance charges
e) Heavy cost of complying with government regulations.

What can be done to help the SMEs?

We need a change in the way of doing business.

Government departments, agencies and their linked companies should work out long term contracts with local SMEs based market adjusted prices, to replace the open tender system, where possible.

This allows the local SMEs to build a business with greater certainty.

The principal should also make prompt payment to their supplier and subcontractor to help them with the cash flow and reduce their finance costs.

If the public sector helps the SMEs, it is likely that the private sector will follow.

Some of the government regulations should be changed. SMEs have a problem in employing local and foreign workers. They find it difficult to comply with the employment quotas that are more suitable for the larger companies. Separate quotas should be given to small companies.

The government needs to understand the challenges faced by SMEs. They can then craft out suitable policies that can address these problems and help the SMEs to be viable and grow.

Share your views.

Tan Kin Lian

Charges against Najib

When Barisan Nasional lost the General Election, I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Will the former PM of Malaysia Najid stay to face charges?

Here are the responses of the people who submitted their votes:

61% - He will be detained to face charges
24% - He will find a way to leave the country
11% - He will return most of the money and face a reduced jail sentence.
4% - He will be released due to lack of evidence.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Hosting the Trump Kim summit

I asked this question in the Wisdom of the Crowd - Is it good for Singapore to host the Trump Kim summit?

Here are the responses from those who voted:

61% - It will improve our international image
22% - It will cause problems for Singapore.
10% - I am proud that Singapore has been selected for this summit
7% - It will boost our tourism.

See the breakdown of the votes in

Exchange an old flat for a new flat

Mr. X and his wife are in their early 30s. They do not have any children.

They bought a resale 3 room flat a few years ago. They are now able to sell the 33 year old flat for an estimated $250,000 but have to repay the government grant of $30,000, leaving a net proceed of $220,000. They expect to pay $210,000 when they buy a new 3 room HDB flat.

Would it be wise for Mr. X to exchange the old flat for a new flat?

Here is the answer…

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